3 effective strategies to manage worry and rumination starting today
In 3 effective strategies to manage worry and rumination starting today I will in detail explan how you can reduce worrysome and ruminating thoughts already today.
Worry and rumination create pain and stress hormones that can harm you body in the long run. These two ingredients paired together can often also escalate into intense suffering. At the same time, worry and rumination are natural processes in human life that makes us able to learn and to plan future actions. Hence, it is of great importance to learn how to manage worry and rumination.
Below are 3 effective strategies to manage worry and rumination that have greatly helped my clients achieve better mental and physical health.
The content of this article 3 effective strategies to manage worry and rumination starting today
In 3 effectve strategies to manage worry and rumination starting today you will learn about:
- What is the difference between worry and rumination
- The benefits and potential problems with worry and rumination
- Stragey 1: Use the worry hour to steer your thinking
- Strategy 2: Use the 10 techniques to manage acute stressful thoughts
- Strategy 3: Use Mindfulness and Acceptance techniques to change focus
- Other sources for effective strategies to manage worry and rumination
What is the difference between worry and rumination
Worry is thinking in a distressing way about the future. It can help us prepare for the future but also harm us if we allow orself to worry obsessively. Closely related is rumination which is about thinking about the past in a distressing way.
The benefits and potential problems with worry and rumination
Worrying can be a very important survival skill. Worry is often activated when situations arise that treathens something that is important to us. When worrying is done in the right way and with the right amount, it can be a very helpful in solving problems that have arisen.
Ruminating is about thinking about the past. It can be beneficial when it is about reviewing incidents with the aim to learn, but not to punsih oneself, from experiences.
The 3 effective strategies to manage worry and rumination starting today
Here are the 3 most effective strategies to manage worry and rumination that have different aims and hence supplement each other:
Strategy 1: Use the worry hour to steer your thoughts
Strategy 2: Use the 10 techniques to manage acute stressful thoughts
Strategy 3: Use Mindfulness and Acceptance techniques to change focus
Strategy 1: Use the worry hour to steer your thoughts
To take control of worrying and rumination, it is important to learn how to steer your thinking and focus. One way of steering your thinking is to use a ‘worry hour’. This means that you assign a scheduled hour per day, yes, that is right – only one hour!, for non-urgent worrying and rumination, for example between 10 to 11 AM.
It has to be the same time every day, alternatively during the same daily activity like going to work, during breakfast etc., to ensure discipline. There are several reasons for having a worry hour. Less than one hour of rumination and worrying is considered to be ‘normal’. One of the main reasons for this is that one hour is less than one of the criterias for obsessive compulsive disorder, OCD: having obsessive thoughts for more than one hour a day.
It is important that the worry hour is not scheduled too late in the evening, preferably no later than 6 PM, to ensure that it will not disrupt your sleep with the stress hormones that will be produced by worrying and rumination.
Also, the brain has an overall healthy function and that is to make you survive. Your brain also wants to solve the problems you encounter. One way of doing this is to look out for dangers and surprises.
During the other hours of the day, you simply postpone your worrying and ruminating thoughts: “I will think about that at 10 AM, now I will instead focus on x”.
It is important to acknowledge that your worrying and ruminating thoughts as they show up are parts of the brain’s effort to protect you. The way that the brain functions is not totally within our control. The brain’s main purpose is to look for threats and rewards to ensure that the enitre organism survive, not only our ego. One consequence of this is that we cannot control the first thought. The first thought that pops up in our mind is mostly spontaneous. But we can learn to control our second thought, that is how we respond to the first thought.
Hence, kindly and gently steer the emerging worrying and ruminating thoughts to the scheduled hour, e.g. by responding to it: “Thank you brain for reminding me – I will listen to the thought at 10 AM… tomorrow at 10 AM …later at 10 AM… …10 AM”
If you have had problems with worry and rumination, it can take you thousands of replies until the brain gives up. The reason for this is that the brain really thinks that you are in danger and you have learnt a pattern of thinking where worry and rumination have been considered to be helpful strategies even though they have not worked sufficiently for you.
The worry hour will eventually work or there is another complication.
This technique is of course impossible to use during acute crisis. If one has experienced terrifying dangers and surprises, thinking can become intensified and automated leading to rumination and obsessive worrying. Then instead it is more important to use the techniques for managing acute stress, see below, or immediately seek professional help.
An important reason for the worry hour is that you learn that thoughts can be postponed – and if they can be postponed, they can also be altered and replaced. Remember, you do not control the first thought that enters your mind, but you can learn to control the second one.
More situations when the worry hour is useful
The worry hour is a tool for handling worry and rumination that often spur anxiety. It can also be useful when stuck in unproductive problem solving, mourning a loss etc. by reducing the time spent on non-urgent unproductive or hurtful thoughts to maximum one scheduled hour per day.
It is of course impossible to limit thinking on a topic during acute crisis. Then immediately seek professional help. It is also impossible to steer thinking when your stress level for other reasons are high as when having strong feelings. This can be explained by an overactive sympathetic nervous system creating a locked position in the brain that leads to tumbling thoughts like a dryer.
7 steps of the the worry hour
Follow these 11 steps during the worry hour:
- List all your worries and ruminations both the themes and the actual disturbing thoughts, often a what-if statement: “What if I lose my job”
- Decide whether your thoughts are productive and unproductive respectively. Do this by deciding for every one of your worrying and ruminating thought and divide them into one of the following two groups based on whether the worry or ruminating thought is productive and useful or unproductive and hence unhelpful:
Productive/useful thoughts are about situations that you have an impact on OR are likely to happen so that it is beneficial for you to consider your alternatives with the purpose of making an action plan with specific decision points: “Send XXX a job application. When I get an answer from X, I will do Y or Z depending on if the answer i A or B”.
For the productive/useful thoughts: use traditional problem solving: think of your possible solutions, including actions that need to be taken by you, and weigh them against each other to get a prioritized action plan.
Note, productive thoughts/themes are only productive if you are under 8 in stress level since you then have access to your brain’s problem-solving abilities.
A thought can only be temporarily productive, that is, until you have decided on an action. After that it is unproductive again until you have gotten new information or there are some other developments over time.
Unproductive/unhelpful thoughts are about situations that you have no control over or are unlikely to happen. An example is worrying if a meteorite will crash into you from outer space as you read this, since this is both unlikely and nothing you will be able to act upon until it is too late.
For each thought:
- Write the result/catastrophe that you fear: “I will be unable to pay my rent” “I will have to move”
- Your action plan – what you should do: Plan A: I will talk to my manager about how likely it is that I will lose my job. If there is a risk, I will look for a job during my worry day and if possible, send 2 applications per week. Plan B I will talk to my family about the possibility of lending money while finding a new job. Plan C I will talk to my friend of the possibility to share an apartment. Plan D: I will look over my spending pattern to see if I can increase my savings
- Write down how much time you spent on the theme in total. This will help you see how long difficult thoughts last and help you realize that suffering does have an end
- Describe how you manage to get out of the disturbing thought
- Write how you feel after the thought/theme has left your mind.
Strategy 2: Use the 10 techniques to manage acute stressful thoughts
If the worrying or ruminating thougts are still tumbling, focus on accepting the thoughts, but try not to listen. Instead, repeat to yourself. “These thoughts are just symptoms of acute stress and distress. I am not in the position to find a solution right now, but l will be able to do it later when I am calmer.”
When you have acute stressful thoughts, you can get a relief by trying the techniques described under the heading stress in the menu or the link: https://www.jennyrapp.com/stress/
If your stress or emotional level is above 8 – do stress management techniques, see under the heading ‘How to manage actue stressful thoughts’ above, to bring you down to a level where you can listen, reason and talk to yourself.
One day when you have your worry hour and you do not feel the need to worry or use the time for problem-solving – congratulations! You then do not have to use the worry hour that day, you cannot save it, but instead you just gained an hour where you can do other things that makes life enjoyable for you.
Strategy 3: Use Mindfulness and Acceptance to change focus
In addition to learn how to steer your thoughts, it is also important to learn how to steer your focus of attention:
Cognitive techniques: If stressed, calm yourself by pointing out that the thoughts are likely consequences of stress and hence see the worry-theme as a mainly stress symptoms and not as real concerns. Instead of entering into the thoughts, try to revert to for example:
- mindfulness techniques, such as observing what you experience in you senses while focusing on your breathing
- take a walk or distract yourself with an activity that demands your full attention
- List the likelihood and evidence that supports that your worry/fear theme is true and/or will likely happen
- List statistics and proof that do not support your worst fear with this
- Develop a nuanced mantra, an alternative thought, covering both argumenst for and against your fear, such as: “Even if it is scary to fly since I have no control over what will happen, I still will do it because it is unlikely something will happen and regardless, I will not let my fears make me avoid doing things I want to in life.”
- Talk to yourself in a comforting tone and a self-supportive way about how unhelpful it is to use more time on thoughts that are unlikely or where you have no/minimal impact or control. Do this in a considerate and self-compassionate way and kindly distract yourself without going further into the thoughts.
Other sources for effective strategies to manage worry and rumination
You will learn more about how to manage your thoughts and feelings in my course about how to increase self-esteem: Develop self-esteem & boost your confidence
This article describes more strategies to manage worry and rumination from Harvard University: https://gsas.harvard.edu/student-life/harvard-resources/managing-fears-and-anxiety